By Don Chaddock, Inside CDCR editor
Photos by Eric Owens, CDCR Staff Photographer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
(Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series exploring the history of CDCR.)
The men and women tasked with supervising parolees have never had it easy. In the early days, before paved roads and automobiles were common, parolees sometimes reported to the parole officer by mail. With only two prisons operating – San Quentin and Folsom – parolees reported to the new parole office in the Ferry Building in San Francisco.
Early parole officers
By the early 1900s, Frank De Pue had made his name as an expert in the “new” field of finger printing, with one newspaper dubbing him the “father of criminal justice” in the west.
But, he got his start in criminology by working behind the walls of San Quentin State Prison as an “overseer” and at Folsom State Prison as turnkey.
When the parole law was passed in late 1893, De Pue acted as the “first Parole Officer of the State of California,” according to early newspaper reports.
“Mr. De Pue … looks after paroled convicts … and keeps track of their whereabouts, all checks, letters of credit, passports, etc.,” reported the Sacramento Union on June 15, 1907.
De Pue was the director of the new State Bureau of Criminal Identification, established in 1905.
“The bureau has already been established with Frank De Pue as superintendent, who also acts as special agent or representative of the board of prison directors,” reported the Marin Journal on March 30, 1905.
De Pue was later stripped of his state powers after he stepped in to help rescue a kidnapped girl.
“In the Whitson (kidnapping) case, De Pue exercised the authority of his office as agent of the state identification bureau,” according to the San Francisco Call on Aug. 7, 1911. “Almost before he had returned the Whitson girl to her home, he was stripped of authority – turned out of his state office.”
According to the newspaper, the legislature had neglected to include funding for the bureau.
“(The legislature) provided no funds for the support of his work, and when the funds previously provided were exhausted, Warden Hoyle of San Quentin prison was obliged to take over that portion of De Pue’s work which related to identification of criminals,” the Call reported. “We need De Pue and men of his caliber.”
Karl Hanson was appointed parole officer in 1908.
“The board of prison directors, which met at San Quentin, appointed Karl E. Hanson parole officer at a salary of $1,500 a year,” reported The San Francisco Call on March 15, 1908. “Hanson, who is an Oakland man, has been identified with various business and charitable organizations of that city, and his duties will require personal supervision of all paroled prisoners in the state.”
On April 23, 1908, The San Francisco Call reported on Hanson attempting to arrest someone for urging a parolee to leave the state.
“Probably the first warrant of its kind was issued by Police Judge Cabaniss yesterday, the complaining witness being Karl E. Hanson, state parole officer, acting for the state board of prison directors. It was for the arrest of Joseph Gregg, an ex-convict, for … inducing a paroled prisoner to leave the state. … The act makes it a felony for any person to encourage a paroled prisoner to violate the conditions of his parole, one of them being that the prisoner must remain within the state,” the paper reported.
Ed Whyte was appointed in 1911.
“On July 19, Ed Whyte, sergeant at arms of the assembly during the last session of the legislature and formerly deputy sheriff of Sacramento County, has been appointed state parole officer, to succeed Frank Mulford. … The position carries a salary of $1,800 a year. The … officer’s tenure is at the pleasure of the board,” reported The San Francisco Call on July 20, 1911.
Whyte served more than two decades as the state parole officer.
“Our old friend, Edward H. Whyte, has been appointed parole officer for the fifth time, thereby starting him out on his twenty-second year in this position,” noted the Sausalito News on July 1, 1932. “Until Ed Whyte took the job, the parole office didn’t amount to anything. Whyte, whom we first knew as a deputy sheriff in Sacramento, waded right into the situation. … Whyte has a heart in him as big as the Ferry Building in which his office is located, yet he can be as firm and hard-boiled as a picnic egg. … California is fortunate in having a man of Whyte’s capabilities in the position he holds. He cannot be expected to rehabilitate every person who gets out on parole, but he does far more for humanity than the public can possibly realize.”
Whyte made headlines in 1932 in the parole case of Norman Selby, more widely known as the famous boxer “Kid McCoy.”
The Spokane Daily Chronicle, on July 23, 1932, featured a photo of the two of them in San Francisco.
“Selby, one-time welterweight boxing champion of the world, former soldier and motion picture actor, and man of many marriages (will be released on parole) announced … Ed Whyte, state parole officer. Freedom for the fallen ring idol … was made possible by the offers of an old friend to give ‘Kid’ McCoy a job. … The offer meets the state parole requirements,” reported the Ellensburg Daily Record, July 19, 1932.
Whyte died in 1934 while recovering from an illness, still serving as the state parole officer. He was 65.
“Parole is not a form of leniency, but a method of increased protection to the public,” Whyte’s last report stated, released after this death.
Charles Coxe, of San Francisco, was named Whyte’s successor on Dec. 18, 1934.
A month later, Coxe was in the news as he narrowly avoided being taken hostage during a prison break at San Quentin.
“Coxe, newly appointed state parole officer, escaped during the raid on the warden’s office. He was attending his first parole board meeting when the five (armed) convicts marched into the warden’s home,” reported the St. Petersburg Times on Jan. 17, 1935. “(The convicts) apparently forgot about Coxe (as they) were herding their hostages toward the prison automobile.”
Creating new oversight
A few years after the passage of the parole law, the governor sought to provide more oversight to state hospitals, asylums, orphanages and prisons.
Gov. James Budd, the state’s 19th governor from 1895 to 1899, called on the Legislature to create a more streamlined system of state government through the creation of a single board to oversee charities and corrections.
“(He sent) a message … strongly requesting the Legislature to pass the bill introduced by Senator Seymour, providing for a State board of charities and corrections, which should displace the various board controlling the difference insane asylums and reformatories,” reported The San Francisco Call on March 8, 1895.
His message was clear.
“I would recommend a bill be passed abolishing the existing … boards and calling for one non-partisan board of from seven to nine members to control the entire system,” he wrote in his message to the Legislature.
The paper went on to report the defeat of the bill.
But the movement had picked up steam and others began to champion the need for oversight.
A first-of-its kind four-day meeting was held in Oakland calling for the creation of a new state board to oversee the prison system, reported by the San Francisco Call on Jan. 5, 1901.
“The motive underlying the address of every speaker lay in the necessity each felt of securing legislation to establish a State Board of Charities with advisory and perhaps reformatory powers, and the applause with which their views were met showed that the sentiments of each speaker found an echo in the hearts of the hearers. An act has been drawn up in the rough and will be presented to the conference for its endorsement,” the paper reported.
Gov. George Pardee served from 1903-1907 and also called for reform in his inaugural address.
“Both humane and economic reasons appeal to us to do what we can to bring our penal methods into line with the best thought of the day,” he said.
In 1903, the San Francisco Call reported on the creation of the board.
“(The bill) provides for the creation of the State Board of Charities and Corrections. The board shall consist of six members … appointed by the Governor. … It is provided that women may be appointed members of the board. … The commissioners are required to perform their duties without compensation, but will be allowed necessary traveling and other expenses. A secretary is to be appointed by the board and his salary is fixed at $2,400 per year. … The commissioners will be required to examine and report upon charitable, correctional and penal institutions of the State, including State hospitals for the insane and such private institutions of similar character that receive public funds.”
In 1904, the new board released its first report.
“The facilities supplied by the State in some of the older reformatories for such a reformatory-training of prisoners are similar and equal to the provisions made for the training of pupils of normal condition in the best schools of learning. … This includes a gymnasium, … trades-classes for the technical training of every prisoner; a school of letters, graded from the elementary to the academic studies; a lecture course, with the institutionary newspapers (and) military training as thorough, if not so comprehensive, as that of the National Military Academy,” according to the first report of the State Board of Charities and Corrections.
The board also helped further shape the way parole functioned, as they reported in 1911.
“Under this (parole) system, nearly all prisoners will be released upon parole. In case of a prisoner whose term is to expire in a few months, efforts will be made to obtain him employment prior to the expiration of the time for which he was sentenced. The object of this system is twofold. First, it encourages the prisoner in the prison to that behavior by which a parole can be obtained; second, it gives the prisoner an opportunity of getting a start, before the protection of the State is entirely removed.”
The board evolved over the years, becoming today’s California Department of Social Services.
“How it was then: The California Department of Social Services (CDSS) began humbly as a six- member Board of Charities and Corrections in 1903. The Board evaluated and reported on 12 charitable and correctional institutions, 60 county hospitals and charity houses, 57 county jails, and 300 city and town jails and lock-ups. In the following years, the Board sought to improve the welfare of children and adults. Board recommendations for improvement in 1908 included removal of children from orphan asylums to good homes; state enforcement of child support payments by parents; enforcement of the compulsory school attendance in order to reduce juvenile crime; and enforcement of child labor laws,” the CDSS website states.